Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques #15 Metaphor

!! My excuses for being late with publishing this CD HWT episode !!

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at a new episode of our Haiku Writing Techniques in which I try to explain several haiku writing techniques to improve your haiku writing skills. This week I have chosen the following HWT: Metaphor.

As you maybe know metaphor isn't allowed in haiku according to several sources. However metaphor can make your haiku stronger and more beautiful. It is widely known that for example Basho used this "haiku writing technique" several times. In one of his famous "crow-haiku".
Let us look at what Jane Reichhold tells us about this metaphor use in haiku in her "Writing and Enjoying Haiku".

[...] "I can just hear those of you who had some training in haiku, sucking in your breath in horror. There is that ironclad rule that one does not use metaphor in haiku. Posh. As you can see, Basho used it, and used it perfectly, in his most famous "crow haiku".

on a bare branch
a crow lands
autumn dusk

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

What he was saying, in other words, was that the way darkness comes down on an early autumn evening is the way it feels when a crow lands on a bare branch. I never truly understood this haiku until late one day, when I was leaning against the open door of my tiny writing hut. Lost in thought, I was so still that I excited my resident crow's curiosity, causing him to fly down suddenly to land about two feet from my cheek on a thin, nearly bare, pine branch. I felt the rush of darkness coming close, as close as an autumn evening and as close as a big black crow. The thud of his big feet hitting the bare branch caused the tiny ripple of anxiety one has when it gets dark so early in the autumn. In that moment I felt I knew what Basho had experienced. It is extremely hard to find a haiku good enough to place up against Basho's rightly famous one, so I'll pas on giving you an example of my haiku. But this is a valid technique and one that can bring you many lovely and interesting haiku. Haiku is poetry, and it does use another of poetry's oldest tools - the metaphor. Feel free to use metaphor in your haiku - just use it the way Japanese have taught us to do.

Credits: Crow on a bare branch

Let us take a closer look at this famous haiku by Basho:

kare eda ni karasu no tomarikeri aki no kure
on a bare branch
a crow has stopped
autumn dusk

© Basho (Tr. Stephen Wolfe)
In 1689, five years before his death, Basho wrote this final version of this seminal haiku, which, according to many literary critics, ushered in modern haiku replete with its subtle yet profound power. It represented a revolutionary change from the shallow, pun-ridden, clumsy haiku of the
Danrin School that held sway at the time. In the words of R. H. Blyth, this 'crow' haiku by Basho was
the watershed in "the setting up of his own, indeed, the creation of what we now call 'haiku.”
Basho's care in perfecting his crow haiku suggests that he was striving for a breakthrough nuanced innovation that he hoped would chart a new direction for haiku. Judging by the commentary of innumerable Japanese poets, scholars, and Zen practitioners who saw in this haiku a whole gamut of Japanese aesthetic principles and expression, Basho was successful.

Typical of the hyperbolic commentary engendered by this poem is the eminent haiku poet and scholar Miyamori Asataro's (1869-1952) conclusion that 'This is an epoch-making verse which took the first step in the movement elevating the haikai to serious, pure literature."4 Ota Mizuho (1876-1955), tanka poet and classical scholar, insisted that Basho "was trying to produce a model  verse for haikai of the future" and simultaneously sustaining "an aesthetic of 'loneliness' handed down from the medieval waka tradition."

Shimada Seiho (1882-1944), haiku poet and Waseda University professor, asserted that it was this crow haiku that illustrated a basic tenet of Basho's poetic direction which Basho described when he proclaimed: "Poetry of other schools is like colored painting. Poetry of my school should be written as if it were black-ink painting." In a similar manner, Handa Ryohei (1887-1945), tanka poet and Basho scholar, describes this haiku as a prime example of the Japanese aesthetic notion of shibumi, "the kind of poem which emerges when the subject is stripped of all its glitter and reduced to its bare skeleton." It is the above qualities that R. H. Blyth was responding to when he maintained that this haiku is a masterpiece because "The loneliness of autumn is thus intensified by the deathly immobility and colourlessness of the scene.” (source: "Toward Basho's Zen Poetics", article)

Credits: Crow on a bare branch

Basho's "crow haiku" has been discussed through the years and every scholar has his/her own ideas about this haiku so famous and so beautiful. It's Basho's merit that this discussion took place for several decades ... it proves that he (Basho) really was the haiku master of his time, but also of our time. I am proud that I see him as my teacher and that I, through his spirit, became what I am now.

As I look at this "gorgeous" haiku writing technique, notwithstanding the ideas of a lot of haiku scholars that metaphor is not done in haiku, I think metaphor can make haiku more stronger and more beautiful ... metaphor ... has to be part of our haiku writing skills ...

I have tried to write an all new haiku with metaphor as writing technique, but I couldn't came up with something. So I searched my archives and found a few examples of haiku in which I "tried" to use metaphor.

black on white
a flight of crows settles down
in an autumn field

© Chèvrefeuille

tired of spinning
the cat takes time for itself
and washes his face
© Chèvrefeuille

fly like an eagle
as free as a bird in the sky
living my dream
© Chèvrefeuille
I hope you did like this new episode of Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques and that it will inspire you to step away from the idea that "using metaphor in haiku is not done", but to try it ... it will make your haiku more beautiful I think and with (maybe) an even deeper meaning. Have fun!

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until October 24th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode, Tanabata Festival, later on (as I said already in our last CD Special).


  1. I think when talking metaphors it's important to state what one mean.. I think one think to avoid are the similes, whereas an extended metaphor means that the haiku can be interpreted in several ways. In between you have the metaphor where you state that something is something rather than (the weaker resemblance).

    Fore instance: Her are eyes are like stars (simile).
    Her eyes are stars

    So different in expression.

  2. Good point, Bjorn...similes are weaker, more obvious. I'm glad to know metaphor may be used in haiku...I confess to thinking at one time that haiku is "simpler" poetry, it certainly is not! Thanks for teaching us here, Chèvre...and Jane...and Basho :)